The temperature control of perishable products during transit continues to be a hot topic. With the latest EU good distribution practice (cGDP) for pharmaceuticals now in place and with concerns over food wastage gaining momentum, the need for adequate freight safeguards has never been greater. We talk to Malik Zeniti about the issues surrounding effective coolchain maintenance and the role of the latest generation of cargo covers in keeping airfreighted pharma products safe. Malik Zeniti is the Market Manager for the Tyvek® range of air cargo covers from DuPont.
Q1. Malik, what is your involvement with the cold chain process?
DuPont manufactures the highly effective Tyvek® Air Cargo Covers which protect pharmaceuticals from temperature extremes during air transport and other transit steps. These are lightweight, passive thermal covers that are used to cloak pallets and unit load devices to protect them from excessive ambient and solar temperature movements. This latest generation of passive covers has a very important role in the overall cold chain process by closing one of its biggest acknowledged gaps; the temperature divergences which can occur during airport loading and transfer procedures.
Q2. How big is this problem?
Solar radiation spikes regularly take place during external air handling operations and, although enormous strides have been made in recent years to improve the integrity of the pharma cool chain, the problem of ‘tarmac standing time’ has proved a difficult nut to crack. Tarmac standing time is where shipments of temperature- sensitive goods are left standing in fluctuating ambient conditions on the airside apron during the loading, unloading and transfer phases. It has been estimated that up to 5% of all transport events involve a temperature deviation from plan. And, according to IATA, 57% of temperature excursions occur during these ‘uncontrolled’ air- cargo stages of the distribution process. During such intervals, which are usually unplanned and unanticipated, pharma merchandise can be exposed to exceptional temperatures extremes as a result of the ‘greenhouse’ effects of solar radiation.
Q3. Does solving this problem have any direct impact on consumers?
Definitely, in terms of product safety. With temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical goods the merchandise must be kept within carefully defined temperature envelopes during transportation to ensure that consumers are not put at risk from dangerous or ineffective products safety is not compromised. In practice this means drug distribution must be compliant with prevailing good distribution practice (cGDP). It’s the same story with the air freight of foodstuffs where breathable, thermally-efficient, covers are also widely used. Here the concerns over global food security have heightened public sensitivity towards food wastage and the use of cargo covers plays an important part in ensuring that foodstuffs are transported between regions freshly and safely.
Q4. How have you been able to demonstrate the effectiveness of this type of cover?
Tyvek® Air Cargo covers have been the subject of numerous tests and qualification exercises by DuPont itself, by air cargo specialists and by global pharmaceutical companies. There is a wealth of test data and qualification results which demonstrate the performance of the product in helping maintain perishable cargo temperatures within required limits. Tyvek® covers have been adopted by many international logistics suppliers such as Kuehne & Nagel and Cargolux and distributors include AmSafe Bridport and Sofrigam. In addition we maintain a network of stockists and technical consultants across the world.
Q5. To what extent does the use of these latest low-mass covers reduce waste and unnecessary carbon emissions within the total distribution chain?
At present a huge proportion of CRT pharmaceuticals are transported with a ‘protection’ comprising a simple covering of stretch- or bubble-wrap. This is a wasteful exercise in itself since these materials are rarely re-useable and, even more seriously, they have been shown to contribute to unnecessary temperature deviations by causing
serious heat gains through ‘greenhouse’ solar gain effects. The elimination of the wastage that results will make a worthwhile contribution to minimising unnecessary carbon emissions. The latest generation of cargo cover solutions from DuPont also offer a superior strength-to-weight ratio, which potentially can reduce energy use in transportation compared to heavier competitive products. The use of very low weight materials results in less energy and resource consumption, and less material waste at the end of product life.
And that’s not all. As a ‘passive’ coolchain element, these low-mass covers do not require any power or energy- consuming preparation and offer flexibility, reusability and low cost. They are also very energy-efficient in use compared to alternative pallet wrappings and covers. They are more energy efficient than alternative 150 Micron films, bulky bubble wrap or corrugated cardboard protection and material, and, as a Grade 2 polymer, are also 100% recyclable.
Q6. Apart from technical performance, are there any other standout benefits from using this type of product?
The fact that many airlines have started to charge fuel surcharges taking chargeable weight into consideration rather than actual weight is giving shippers cause to look more closely at their freight volumes. End-users are effectively being ‘penalised’ for higher volume shipments and are consequently looking at the additional volumes associated with thick thermal blankets and bulky bubblewrap in a different light. We see this as a big advantage for companies that can provide high-performance covers that, at the same time, are both extremely thin and light.
Q7. Are you involved with the Cool Chain Association (CCA)?
Indeed. I am currently serving as the Treasurer of the CCA and sit on the CCA board of directors. The reason for DuPont’s involvement is to help us work across the full supply chain including shippers, and for the learning and exchanging experiences to drive innovation across the cool chain.
Q8. How is business at the moment?
With the new EU GDP now being enforced, with its emphasis on the improved temperature management of Controlled Room Temperature (CRT) pharmaceuticals, there is a pressing need for pharma companies and their logistics providers to introduce cost-effective measures to ensure compliance. With many proprietary products now losing their patent protection and assuming low-cost generic status, there is increased pressure to find more cost effective and efficient coolchain solutions.
Another, coincident, driver is the huge growth in biopharmaceutical medicines which are characterised as being both time and temperature sensitive. The market for these biologics is growing at about 10% year on year. The increasing recognition that there are some sizeable ‘weak links’ in the cool chain (such as the effects of solar radiation) is also creating a high level of demand for high performance passive cargo covers. That said, the increasing costs of compliance with the new regulations means that pharma companies and their freight partners are more cost-sensitive than ever before and this is forcing innovation and efficiency amongst suppliers.
Q9. Can you describe some of the current trends in the coolchain marketplace?
The growing demand for improved air freight coolchain performance, as a result of new regulatory requirements and due to the renewed competition from seafreight, is a trend that is likely to continue indefinitely. This has led to changes in risk assessments linked to insufficient airport or coolchain related infrastructure. Also high on the agendas of our customers is a need to develop more cost-effective temperature management processes.
Q10. Could you expect the difficult trading conditions for air freight to continue? If the world economy is improving, will airfreight necessarily see the benefit of that?
Air freight will always closely follow global economic trends, so it will recover over time and be an early indicator of growth. Global healthcare is a relatively recession-resistant proof sector and for many perishable transport needs there are no alternatives to air.
Q11. Has there been a fundamental shift in the air cargo market? Have some shippers permanently shifted to surface transport for known reasons e.g. cost, ‘green’ concerns etc. – and what can the industry do to win them back?
At the margins of the overall perishables sector, air freight has indeed lost some business to sea freight due to pure cost pressure and the fact that sea freight operators have reacted to the economic downturn by working hard to improve their temperature-controlled services. Having witnessed this ‘modal shift’ the air freight industry is now having to focus on improving its service, in particular how it can ensure cool chain integrity along the supply chain. In the end the customer will benefit. It is worth pointing out that some of the ‘lost’ business is likely to come back as manufacturers realise that some of the perceived savings from sea freight do not always stack up. For example, sea freight is not only slow, it offers poor traceability and flexibility, and it ties up a significant value of expensive stock which, of course, has to be funded.
Q12. How can the industry work together to improve processes and efficiency and woo shippers back?
There needs to be closer collaboration between supply chain parties from the outset to capture the strengths of the various players, to generate and agree methodologies and performance specifications and to define and allocate responsibilities. There also needs to be a greater receptiveness to innovation, a greater emphasis on training at all levels and a more transparent approach to pricing to share the benefits of new innovations between end-users and the entire supply chain.
How they work
Tyvek® Air Cargo Covers work by addressing the adverse heat flow mechanisms that are found in the unpredictable air temperature scenarios typically found in air cargo logistics. Made from low conductivity Tyvek® fabric, the covers operate through a combination of three complementary operating mechanisms: the white micro-fibre exterior surface of the covers provides a highly reflective barrier to external solar gain, the metallised inner surface presents a ‘low-e’ radiant barrier to help maintain core package temperatures and the material’s inherent vapour permeability controls harmful condensation. The result is a unique, state-of-the-art protective envelope.
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